When he announced his retirement from the NBA last month, Shaquille O’Neal told the media at his home in Windermere, Fla., how much he had enjoyed being their favorite sound bite.
“I will miss you,” Shaq said, “but I do plan on entertaining you for the next 19 years. Whether it’s TNT, ESPN, CNN - whoever wants to hire me, my offices open up on Monday. Give me a call.”
O’Neal, the first pick of the 1992 draft, drew lottery pick-like interest on the open market. ESPN made a pitch O’Neal called “very tempting,” but it wasn’t enough. The former LSU star signed a long-term deal Thursday with Turner Sports to join Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on TNT’s studio show.
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Smith has chosen “The Big Analytical” as his new partner’s next nickname, and the former point guard says he looks forward to making “verbal passes” to the 15-time All-Star with four NBA championship rings.
The big question is how Barkley will handle sharing verbal buckets with one of the few personalities that rival his.
You know what’s coming if Shaq mispronounces a name, stumbles on a line or makes a rookie mistake.
But that probably won’t happen much.
O’Neal took a step back late in his career to play alongside Steve Nash, then LeBron James, then Boston’s Big Three in hopes of winning one more title. He surely won’t mind a supporting role with his latest team.
And as much as any other star athlete, O’Neal as a TV analyst was a slam dunk, as sure a bet as the ‘92 draft.
Whether he was recording rap albums, starring on the silver screen or simply cracking up reporters in interview sessions, the 7-foot-1, 360-pound attention magnet was an entertainer as much as a basketball player.
He always liked new adventures.
O’Neal, who was sworn in as a deputy U.S. Marshal six years ago, says he’d still like to run for sheriff someday. He once locked up with The Big Show in the WWE. He is working on a PhD from Barry University in human resource development.
At his retirement news conference, O’Neal had someone hand him a phone and pretended it was the president of the New York Knicks on the other line.
“You want me to come up and apply for the general manager job?” O’Neal asked the make-believe caller. “OK. Sure. I’ll be up right after the press conference.”
On his Twitter page, in the spot where most users list a job title, O’Neal does not describe himself as one of the NBA’s greatest players.
“Very quotatious,” his profile reads, “I perform random acts of Shaqness.”
Working as a TV analyst, could be the start of a successful second career. If the thing goes “Kazaam,” maybe he can turn to other things.
No matter where retirement takes him, O’Neal will certainly make good on the promise he made last month. He will certainly keep everyone entertained.